Free Speech Faculty Lair

The Faculty Lair

This occasional faculty development series will encourage dialogue about hot topics in higher education, showcase successful projects and practices, and initiate faculty reflections on career trajectories. Events mostly consist of lunchtime panel discussions that put faculty members from different disciplines in dialogue with each other.

Fall 2018 Schedule

  • Monday, September 17th: Professors and Free Speech at Liberal Arts Colleges

“Professors and Free Speech at Liberal Arts Colleges.” What is freedom of speech and how does it apply to what we do in the classroom? Is freedom of speech the same as academic freedom? Is the vigorous exchange of ideas central to the liberal arts enterprise, or should respect for human dignity and sensitivity to the harm that words may cause inform our teaching? In our polarized environment, is this a political issue? Have conservatives “weaponized” free speech, or have liberals become too “politically correct?” Many books have addressed these issues, and the Chronicle of Higher Education recently devoted a special section to the topic.

Jonathan Marks of Ursinas College, Laura Beth Nielsen of Northwestern University, Allison Stanger of Middlebury College, and our own President Marjorie Hass participated. Marks, Professor of Politics, has written on higher education for InsideHigherEd, the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, and Commentary Magazine. Nielsen, Professor of Sociology and Director of Legal Studies at Northwestern, has written about law and inequalities of race, gender, and class. Stanger, Russell Leng ’60 Professor of International Politics and Economics, wrote opinion pieces in the New York Times in 2017 titled “Understanding the Angry Mob at Middlebury That Gave Me a Concussion,” and “Middlebury, My Divided Campus.”

  • Thursday, November 15th: Teaching iGen: What Faculty Need to Know about this Generation of Students

We learned a great deal from Jean Twenge’s book, iGen --  that this generation, born after 1995, is slower to grow up, more concerned with safety, less likely to take risks, and obsessively attached to their phones and attuned to social media.  In Twenge’s words, “The devices they hold in their hands have both extended their childhoods and isolated them from true human interaction. As a result, they are both the physically safest generation and the most mentally fragile (p. 312).”

Here were some of the practical suggestions and strategies that emerged from the discussion:

  • Making clear to students that the classroom is a “sacred space,” in which they will have to let go of digital distractions, or experimenting with “digital fasts” in certain courses, in order to make students aware of the addictive nature of their devices.
  • Using the new Collaborative Classroom (102 West Campus) as a way to foster healthy face-to-face in class collaboration among students, assisted by technology.
  • Teaching the art of classroom discussion, so that students learn how to disagree with one another, and even thanking students when they provide wrong answers in class, thus allowing the professor the chance to explain why an answer is wrong while allowing the student to avoid embarrassment.
  • Making students aware of the College’s Counseling Center, which employs a larger staff than ever before.

The challenge of engaging this generation of students is ongoing, so this will likely be the first of several conversations on such topics.